Cyclone Gita in the South Pacific is a powerful Category 4-equivalent tropical cyclone on the Saffir-Simpson Scale (as of the time of this post). Maximum sustained winds analyzed by the US Joint Typhoon Warning Center are up to 130 mph with gusts to 155 mph. Gita is moving westward and is expected to pass near or over Tonga around 12 UTC Monday (6 am CST or 1 am Tuesday local time). The storm is expected to be at least a powerful Category 4 storm. There is moderate wind shear (increasing winds with height effecting the cyclone and limiting more rapid intensification. However, with water temperatures along the path of 28-29 degrees C (82-84 degrees F) and well-organized structure, Gita will be a potentially catastrophic storm if its eye wall moves over the main island. Gita will also produce very heavy rain (perhaps 6-12 inches) which will lead to flooding. A state of emergency has been declared in the island nation.
After 24 hours, Gita is expected to gradually weaken as sea surface temperatures cool and vertical wind shear increases as the system begins to turn to the southwest into higher latitudes. However, Gita is expected to remain a hurricane-force storm through the end of the week.
New Zealand will need to keep an eye on the remnants of Gita as the dying circulation an moisture plume may curve back southeastward in the mid-latitude westerlies. While, the forecast will certainly change somewhat…such as the position of the upper-level trough of low pressure southwest of New Zealand which will cause the system to curve back towards the country beginning Sunday…any remnant system may lead to locally heavy rainfall for both the North and South Islands early to mid-week next week.
I thought it would interesting to look at the past 5 months (September-January) as there have been some notable trends at the seasonal level which have led to major impacts within the US. Some of this is driven by the cool phase of the El Nino Southern Oscillation (La Nina) in the tropical Pacific, while in the longer-term, they are being driven by increasingly more powerful influence of anthropogenic climate change on global temperatures and natural variability.
The most notable climate anomalies the past several months since the beginning of Meteorological Autumn (Sept 1st) have been very abnormal heat…particularly in the Western US and increasing dryness across much of the nation.
The rapid increase in drought conditions since late Autumn was initially caused by the jet stream favoring the northern tier states and southern Canada, with strong upper-atmospheric high pressure over the West contributing to the abnormal warmth. However, by January, the pattern changed with the jet stream becoming much more higher in amplitude over the US. The strong ridging remained over the Eastern Pacific and Western US, but strong dips in the jet stream have thus far brought abundant cold air masses into the center and eastern third of the country. These continental Arctic air masses have also been quite dry, making it difficult for many places to recover from drought conditions. In many cases, the situation has worsened.
One thing to notice as far the heat is concerned for January 2018. Although there was a wide swath of the US with below normal temperatures, the 9 states out West had their Top 10 warmest January on record vs. no states with a Top 10 coldest. So even with a high amplitude jet stream opening up Arctic air to much of the US, high heat (by winter norms) still dominated the US average with the 35th warmest January on record, in the top 30% out of 124 years. In addition, Alaska witnessed very abnormal warmth. Barrow had its warmest November on record (more than 16 F above normal) while the whole state had its warmest January on record. Also in January, Ketchikan, AK measured its (and Alaska’s) highest daily January temperature on record of 67 degrees F in the Panhandle. While La Nina and other “teleconnections” (multi-month and sub-seasonal atmospheric circulation patterns) are creating conditions favorable for these abnormal conditions, anthropogenic climate change is clearly having an impact on the intensity of warm regions over cold regions and the tendency for more frequent drought conditions (and longer wildfire seasons), especially in the Western US.
It appears February will be a repeat of January, although it may end up warmer overall if long-term models work out. And with this, meteorological winter may end on very abnormally warm and exceptionally dry note.
–Meteorologist Nick Humphrey
2/11/18: Edited to add February 8th Drought Monitor.
You may remember I posted last Friday about the major North Atlantic storm which was expected to move into the Arctic Ocean Sunday and Monday producing hurricane-force winds, 30 ft+ waves and temperatures over 40 degrees F above normal (near or even above freezing in places). Well that storm advanced through the Arctic and now noticeable effects can be seen (via satellite analysis) on sea ice concentration (amount of ice vs. open water in a given area) and on sea ice sheet growth and resulting extent.
Included are two images of the sea ice concentration…one I saved from the February 3rd, another just posted for February 6th. Lighter blues are for 90-95% concentration, with yellows and reds being for 75-90%.
Extent growth basically stopped between February 3-6 (near 13,300,000 sq km for four days).
More very above normal temperatures will hit the Arctic this weekend as a powerful blocking high pressure system over the Pacific (sound familiar…) raises temps once again across Alaska and allows storm tracks to head for the Bering Strait and Chukchi Sea once again. Meanwhile, the Atlantic side will continue to remain “open” with another storm also moving into the region this weekend. No storm appears to be nearly as powerful as the Sunday-Monday event, but the litany of systems bringing at least some wind, wave action and temps not far below the freezing point of salt water is no good for the Arctic.
Arctic sea ice is extremely important for everything from Arctic regional ecology, marine biology to effects on overall warming of the Arctic Ocean and surrounding land areas (and permafrost). There is also evidence that the rapid warming of the Arctic because of anthropogenic climate change is altering the polar jet stream circulation which may be leading to an increased frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events.
This winter has been a fascinating one to say the least. Wild oscillations between very abnormally warm and very abnormally cold while other places are are just consistently very warm. Or perhaps just very dry. Much of this has been thanks to the current La Nina pattern in place over the Tropical Pacific. The atmospheric pattern leading to abnormally cooler waters over the eastern tropical region also lead to the promotion of strong high pressure systems over the Central North Pacific with unusually higher amplitude jet streams. This favors a polar jet aiming for the Pacific Northwest, northern tier and into the northeastern third of the country while the Southwest and Sunbelt see drier conditions.
Meanwhile, significant Arctic intrusions have been impacting the US, particularly in January and more appear likely in February as “teleconnections”…patterns in global circulation which give clues toward a general weather regime for a region of the world…show signs of further intense extreme jet stream amplitudes with very strong upper-level high pressure systems blocking storm tracks over the north Pacific and Bering Sea, which downstream will mean a cross polar flow in the upper atmosphere of very cold air upper troughs and surface Arctic fronts and high pressure systems over northern Plains/Midwest into the Northeast US. The Deep South should escape as warmer air from the subtropics attempts to advance north and may keep the Arctic air at bay. Europe looks to also have periods of similar cold (and interior Siberia of course! Check out the incredible cold they had last month).
Powerful Arctic Ocean Storm Sunday-Tuesday
While the mid-latitudes get hit with Arctic cold, the Arctic is being pounded by significant amounts of mid-latitude heat. And now the computer models are pointing towards a major North Atlantic storm developing early this weekend, moving over Greenland and then into the middle of the Arctic Ocean Sunday night-Monday. This storm will be very powerful…as strong as any classic North Atlantic ocean winter storm, and will bring significant amounts of high winds, battering waves and high “heat” to the Arctic. How warm? Perhaps as warm as 50-60 degrees F above normal temperatures over much of the Arctic Ocean. This will mean highs near or just above freezing up to the North Pole!
This storm is forecast to initially form southwest of the tip of Greenland and east of Quebec Friday and will beginning moving over Greenland Saturday. Sunday, the system will begin to impact the Arctic, with warm and moisture transport from the North Atlantic (all the way from the Azores!) increasing abruptly late-Sunday. By Monday morning, models indicate waves moving up the Fram Strait toward the Arctic may be as high as 30 ft in strong south-southwesterly flow. Over the sea ice sheet, the low pressure system will be intense as it emerges from Greenland…possibly sub-960 millibars with widespread wind gusts of up to hurricane-force likely over much of the interior Arctic Ocean east and south of the low on the Atlantic side.
Why this storm is so significant is because the Arctic sea ice is continuing to undergo collapse because of anthropogenic climate change. If the Arctic climate warms to the point that it simply cannot support sea ice in the warm season, with the Arctic Ocean warming as a result of very low albedo (reflectivity to visible light which would otherwise limit warming) compared to white ice (or latent heat of melting/freezing, instead of heat going into warming the ocean directly), this will have dramatic effects on not only regional climate but global climate (I can go into greater details in this in the comments or provide resources). Generally this was something expected much later in the future, but may occur earlier than expected, although it is difficult to predict when exactly this will occur as it would be nonlinear and abrupt. However, as mentioned, ice volume and extent for ice are running at record or near record lows across the Arctic Basin. Some of these effects on albedo and heating have already begun to be felt over the past several years on the marginal seas which are beginning to become increasingly ice free during the warm season (Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea, Eastern Siberian Sea), but it’s important to not have the interior Arctic Ocean lose significant ice. Particularly in the winter, but it has been struggling just to freeze this winter! For more on recent sea ice developments see these videos by Paul Beckwith (M.Sc, PhD candidate; HERE and HERE).
In the meantime, while we have year to year variability…various teleconnection patterns, anthropogenic forcing (CO2, other gasses) is the most dominant regime on our climate and so even while I must emphasize weather is not climate…I must also emphasize that climate is a statistical distribution of weather events; and so extreme weather events which are increasing in frequency and magnitude are a sign of our climate shifting to more extreme conditions and in sensitive places (particularly cold climates like the Arctic), those shifts are incredibly noticeable.
The 2017 North Atlantic Hurricane season was a devastating one in terms of loss of life as well as property damage for the United States and the Caribbean. The National Hurricane Center released its post-season report on Harvey which caused great destruction to parts of Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana. What follows is a brief summary and discussion of Harvey based on info from that report as well as other sources related to Harvey’s impacts. The full report is linked at the end of this post in the references.
What became Harvey was originally a tropical disturbance which came off the West Coast of Africa on August 12th. It is common during August and September for land-based thunderstorm complexes known as mesoscale convective systems to move westward off the African coast near or south of the Cape Verde (also known as the Cabo Verde) Islands and later develop into long-lived tropical cyclones. Harvey was a classic “cape-verde” type storm as it would later develop into a tropical depression with a well-defined center on August 16th.
The depression intensified into a storm and given its name 12 hrs after initial development. It peaked over the open Atlantic at 40 knots (~45 mph), moving over the islands of Barbados and St. Vincent on August 18th. However, increasing vertical wind shear (increasing winds with height tilting and blowing the thunderstorms away from the low pressure center) over the central Caribbean Sea lead to Harvey’s dissipation to a remnant low later that day.
The remnant circulation moved over the Yucatan Peninsula on Aug 22nd and redeveloped into a tropical depression over Bay of Campeche on August 23rd, 150 n mi west of Progreso, Yucatan, Mexico.
The initially poor organization of the reformed Harvey transitioned to a period of rapid intensification late on the 23rd as deep convection began to concentrate near the center. This was aided by an environment of light shear, very warm sea surface temperatures and high mid-level moisture. Intensification would continue until landfall on the 26th. Harvey reached Category 3 midday on the 25th and intensified into a Category 4 as it made its landfalls on the Texas coast early August 26th (the evening of the 25th local time). The initial landfall was on San Jose Island, TX as a Category 4 with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph (115 knots) with a second landfall on mainland Texas in northeast Copano Bay as a Category 3 with maximum sustained winds of 120 mph (105 knots). Wind damage was extreme and devastating in Aransas, Nueces, Refugio and the eastern part of San Patricio Counties. 15,000 homes were destroyed and 25,000 homes damaged. The City of Rockport was hit the hardest as the Category 3+ wind field moved into that area causing both extensive wind and surge impacts. The highest surge observed in Harvey was generally in the range of 9-11 ft.
Harvey meandered in light steering currents, “stuck” between a mid-tropospheric high pressure system over the Four Corners states and another mid-troposphere high over the Gulf of Mexico. Torrential rains fell over Houston Metro and the Golden Triangle near a stationary front which formed on the north and east side of Harvey.
The rainfall of Harvey was truly incredible. A storm total of 60.58 inches was confirmed Nederland, TX; 60.54 inches in Groves, TX. Much of the heaviest precipitation fell in the first 72 hrs of the event. Previous continental US record for a tropical cyclone is 48 inches in Medina, TX (1978). The extreme nature of Harvey was displayed in that 18 values over that continental record of 48 inches reported across southeastern TX, with 36-48 inches recorded across the Houston metro area. However, Multi-Sensor Precipitation Estimates (MPE), which includes radar-derived rainfall intensity estimates suggests 65-70 inches where few observations were available or observations failed early in the event. Maximum rainfall measured in Louisiana was 23.71 inches in Vinton, LA, with MPE suggesting a more representative 40 inches as Southeast Southwest LA obs were sparse.
The large-scale or synoptic set up for the Harvey exceptional rainfall event is not particularly unique. Heavy rain bands formed along a modest frontal boundary situated initially near Houston, then the Golden Triangle region in Southeast TX (Beaumont, Port Arthur, Orange, TX area). Enhanced convergence and convective lift with warm cloud droplet precipitation processes allowed for enhanced rainfall rates in abundant thunderstorms. The combination of extremely high rainfall rates of up to 5-7 inches per hour and the stationary nature of the near coastal frontal boundary and Harvey itself contributed to the extreme total accumulation and massive flooding.
NOAA analysis determined that areas of Southeast TX experience a flood with an annual probability of <0.1% (equivalent to a >1000 year flood event). I believe this is one of the most important parts of the National Hurricane Center report, so I’ll quote it:
While established records of this nature are not kept, given the exceptional exceedance probabilities, it is unlikely the United States has ever seen such a sizable area of excessive tropical cyclone rainfall totals as it did from Harvey.
In addition to storm surge, wind and flooding rains, Harvey produced 57 tornadoes (many in the Houston Metro area) and killed 68 people directly with an additional 35 indirect deaths. All direct deaths were in Texas and it was the deadliest tropical cyclone for Texas since 1919. All but three direct deaths were caused by freshwater flooding.
According to NOAA, preliminary damage analysis suggests estimated damages of $125 billion, making Harvey the second-costliest hurricane on record in the North Atlantic basin, only behind Hurricane Katrina, when adjusted for inflation.
Connection to Anthropogenic (human-caused) Climate Change
During and immediately following the events of Hurricane Harvey, there was intense controversy over even discussing climate change as it related to the extreme events related to Hurricane Harvey. Even mentioning climate change in reference to an individual extreme weather event. A lot of opinions were thrown about, but the science of climate change has evolved dramatically in the past 10 years and climate researchers have a much better understanding of many of the connections between climate variables and the statistics of weather which make up the recent past and current climate. From this, attribution studies can be conducted to determine a likelihood of connection to the changing climate regime. A attribution study was done by World Weather Attribution (#2 below) and the probabilistic statistical analysis determined that the record rainfall from Harvey was approximately a) 3 times more likely and b) 15% more intense in terms of rainfall rate because of climate change. One location witnessed a return period for extreme rainfall of 9000 years with a high degree of statistical confidence. The impacts were consistent with what would be expected with 1 degree C+ of global warming since the late 19th century (the world has thought to have begun warming because of humanity since the mid 18th century). I did an extensive post previously during this most recent hurricane season on the climate change connection with includes references to numerous recent peer reviewed papers HERE.
Here is a meteorological analysis I did on Monday of the blizzard which raked much of the Central Plains and upper Midwest from Nebraska and Kansas to Minnesota and Wisconsin with heavy snow and high winds. It was recorded around 11:30 am CST Monday. Those who follow me on my Facebook page (also see my feed on the sidebar) were able to see it right after it was uploaded, but I’m posting it here for those interested in hearing me discuss the event as it happened. Peak snow totals up to a foot and a half resulted in parts of Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota. Lincoln and surrounding parts of the town only saw 2-3 inches but the totals increased dramatically not far west and north. We got off easy compared to the one foot and greater totals in northeast Nebraska. Winds gusts throughout the region peaked 45-60 mph. You can hear the noise of the high wind through my door in the video.
By the way, my son Bruce makes a guest appearance as he tries to turn off my computer while recording. Haha.
Not only is the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere on the rise, the rise itself has been getting faster — so CO2 concentration has been accelerating. A reader recently asked whether or not there’s any sign of its increase flattening out, or even stopping its acceleration.